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Falkland Islands

Volume 415: debated on Thursday 27 November 1980

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3.20 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they intend making a statement as a result of' their negotiations with the Government of Argentina and the Legislative Council of the Falkland Islands.

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Trefgarne told your Lordships at the conclusion of last night's debate, my honourable friend the Minister of State has gone to the Falkland Islands following exploratory talks with the Argentine Government in April and my general discussion with the Argentine Foreign Minister in September. My honourable friend is consulting the islanders to establish their views. It is the Government's aim to achieve a solution which would be acceptable to all parties. I would repeat that no solution can be agreed without the endorsement of the islanders as well as that of Parliament.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for that Answer. May I once more ask him whether Her Majesty's Government intend making a statement as a result of the negotiations between the Argentinian Government and the Legislative Council of the Falkland Islands?

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that if there is anything to make a statement about it will be made.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many people in the Falkland Islands view with the greatest alarm these conversations that Mr. Nicholas Ridley has had with the military authorities in Argentina; and that, bearing in mind that 3,600 people have totally disappeared into thin air in that country and no explanation has ever been vouchsafed by the authorities in spite of comprehensive investigations by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, this is a régime to which the people of the Falkland Islands quite understandably do not want to be subjected?

My Lords, in the light of the undertaking and the pledge I gave in the original Answer to the Question, I do not think the Falkland islanders have any cause for alarm.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that following the visit of Mr. Ridley leaks have begun to appear in the London press in a fashion all too familiar to those of us who are White-hall-watchers; and will he give us an assurance that this Government will put absolutely no pressure on the islanders to accede to whatever may be the Whitehall view?

My Lords, of course I give that undertaking. I would only add that if my noble friend thinks that I have leaked it he must think that I enjoy being questioned in this House about it.

My Lords, why are we talking to the Argentine at all? What is their locus standi here? They are 500 miles away from islands which, when uninhabited, were occupied by British people and have, in the period since then, been British territory. What has it got to do with the Argentine?

My Lords, like it or not, over a great many years the Argentinians have claimed the Falkland Islands. We of course do not admit that claim, but the fact that there has been that claim has cast an economic blight over the Falkland Islands, as anybody who knows the subject will be well aware. Consequently, if an agreement could be reached which is acceptable to the Falkland islanders, to the Argentinians and to ourselves, it will be greatly to the benefit of all of us.

My Lords, following on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Paget, would the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary not agree that Argentina is no more morally justified in claiming the right to rule the Falkland Islands than, for example, Liberia would be justified in claiming the right to rule the Canary Islands?

My Lords, the noble Lord will know enough about international affairs to know that a lot of people claim things that do not belong to them.

My Lords, can the noble Lord give us an assurance that before assuming that we know the views of the Falkland islanders they will be given some chance of being heard by a referendum or by a means that ascertains their views person by person?

My Lords, I think that at this moment we had better take one thing at a time. I have no idea at the moment what the views of the Falkland islanders are, but I should like to hear what my honourable friend the Minister of State says when he comes back to England, and then we can discuss it all. But certainly there will be a lot of opportunity in your Lordships' House to discuss how we go, if we go anywhere.